How to write poems that resonate with readers and get them published – the key is being comfortable with rejection

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Liana Tang
  • A young Hong Kong poet shares tips for composing poetry that portrays the depth of human emotion by using literary devices such as symbolism
  • If you hope to publish your work through a magazine or contest, make use of resources on the internet to improve your skills and aim for at least 100 rejections
Liana Tang |
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When writing poetry, be specific in how you demonstrate emotion because this will help your poem stand out. Photo: Shutterstock

Poetry is often associated only with sentimental, rhyming couplets, but the literary form is so much more than this cliché and dull stereotype.

If you explore it properly, poetry is so much more. The art can sprinkle a little magic on ordinary life and inspire a ripple of benefits through your writing. Though not every poem is good, everyone can become a good poet.

I have learned much in my journey in writing poetry, so I am sharing tips that I wish I knew when I first started out.

1. Poetry is subjective until it isn’t

While there is always a degree of subjectivity when judging art, there are still guidelines to follow if you want your poetry to resonate with readers.

Poets should “show, not tell”. This can be done by employing strong imagery and other literary devices to immerse the reader in your work.

For example, imagine you are trying to convey grief. Telling the reader “I feel sad, this is so bad” is too vague to be meaningful and does not reflect the emotional spectrum of the human experience. Some people feel numb to cope with death, while others may be angry about feeling like they’ve been abandoned. Specifics will help your poem stand out from a generic one.

Use figurative language in your writing to paint a picture with your words. Photo: Shutterstock

Imagine how you could portray your message and emotions through symbols.

In my poem, “Phantom Mark”, a pink scooter represents a father’s love. But when the father passes away and the speaker wades through an imaginary crowd to follow his dust trail, the poem ends with these lines: “There were no remains. / No photographs to tell the story, / Except a rusty, pink scooter. / Only a phantom mark / That I was once his daughter.”

2. The internet is your best friend

I have never paid to take a poetry class. Everything I have learned has come from watching YouTube, reading online poetry and analysing existing poets.

Incorporate each lesson you learn into a new poem, even if it is not long. Not only can you expand your existing skillset, but you can also learn to draft and edit more quickly.

The internet is full of resources to improve your writing. Photo: Shutterstock

If you want to submit to competitions or magazines, especially paid ones, search on a browser: “[year] poetry competitions [month]”. Some competitions are dedicated to youth, which will increase your chance of being published, since other magazines usually have adults submitting work as well.

Lastly, join an online writing group. Usually, our biases prevent us from evaluating our work objectively, so having a second eye can offer insight into your strengths and weaknesses as a writer. I have a writing partner with whom I work closely, and exchanging feedback has helped me identify what I can do better.

3. Rejection is the norm, not the exception

It typically takes many rejections before a poem is published. Sometimes, it’s just not a good fit for the magazine. Other times, it’s because you still need to refine your craft.

You often will be greeted with standard rejection letters that do not give explanations for your rejection. But this is the norm, so you shouldn’t be deterred from continuing to send your work out.

The more you practise writing poems, the more you will see improvement. Photo: Shutterstock

If you are serious about writing poetry, aim for 100 rejections every year. For you to be rejected that many times, you will have to consistently compose new pieces, which improves your poetry techniques. You will also develop thick skin which is needed to survive in any industry.

Although rejection can be disheartening, it will only make publication taste that much sweeter when you have beaten the odds.

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